Juxtaposition: Definition, Examples, Uses
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 8 min read


Do you remember that famous scene in 'The Godfather' where the baptism of Michael's nephew is juxtaposed with a series of brutal murders? Or how about the classic image of a tiny, delicate flower sprouting amidst a concrete jungle? These are examples of juxtaposition, a concept used in various forms of art and communication to create impact and convey deeper meanings. This blog will help you understand the definition of juxtaposition, identify it, and use it effectively.

What is Juxtaposition?

Juxtaposition, pronounced as jux·ta·po·si·tion, is a noun and a concept that artists, writers, and filmmakers often use to create a specific effect or to highlight a certain idea or theme. To put it simply, it's when two things—ideas, words, images, or characters—are placed close together or side by side to create a contrasting or comparative effect.

Understanding the Term

Let's break down the definition of juxtaposition a bit more. The term comes from the Latin words 'juxta,' meaning 'near,' and 'position,' which, well, means 'position.' So, in a nutshell, juxtaposition is about positioning things near each other. But there's a twist: these things are usually quite different from each other. It's like placing an apple next to an orange—you instantly notice how each fruit is unique.

Why Contrast Matters

Now, you might ask why we can't just place similar things side by side. Well, you could, but that wouldn't be juxtaposition. The magic of juxtaposition lies in the contrast. It's like watching a tall basketball player standing next to a short jockey—the difference in their heights instantly grabs your attention and creates an impact.

Creating a Comparative Effect

Contrast is just one part of the definition of juxtaposition. The other part involves creating a comparative effect. By placing two contrasting elements side by side, you can highlight the unique characteristics of each. It's like putting a slice of pizza next to a salad—you can clearly see the differences in their ingredients, color, and texture, and that might make you appreciate each one more.

A Tool for Deeper Meanings

While juxtaposition can be a fun way to highlight differences, it’s also a powerful tool for conveying deeper meanings or themes. For instance, in literature, a kind character may be juxtaposed with a cruel one to highlight the theme of good versus evil. By understanding the definition of juxtaposition, you can begin to notice and appreciate these subtle, yet powerful, artistic decisions.

How to Identify Juxtaposition

Identifying juxtaposition can be a bit tricky at first, but don't worry—you'll get the hang of it with a little practice. Here are some steps to help you spot it in different contexts.

Step 1: Look for Contrast

The first step in identifying juxtaposition is to look for contrast. Remember, juxtaposition is all about placing contrasting elements side by side. So, if you see two things that are noticeably different from each other in close proximity, you might be looking at a case of juxtaposition. For example, if you see an advertisement showing a luxury car parked in a rundown neighborhood, that's probably juxtaposition—the contrast between the wealthy and the poor is evident.

Step 2: Consider the Purpose

After spotting a contrast, ask yourself: what is the purpose of this contrast? Does it make a statement or convey a certain theme or idea? If it does, then it's likely a case of juxtaposition. For instance, in the car advertisement example, the contrast could be used to emphasize the car's luxury status, suggesting that it stands out even in the most unfavorable conditions.

Step 3: Evaluate the Effect

Finally, consider the overall effect of the contrast. Does it grab your attention? Does it make you see the contrasting elements in a new light? If so, then you've likely identified a case of juxtaposition. Remember, the purpose of juxtaposition is not just to create contrast, but to use that contrast to create a specific effect or highlight a certain idea or theme.

Practice Makes Perfect

Like any skill, identifying juxtaposition gets easier with practice. So, the next time you're reading a book, watching a movie, or looking at an advertisement, try to spot examples of juxtaposition. You'll be surprised at how common this technique is once you start looking for it!

Juxtaposition Examples in Literature

Now that we've walked through the steps on how to identify juxtaposition, let's put that knowledge into practice. We'll examine some famous works of literature where authors have used juxtaposition to create compelling narratives and memorable characters.

Charles Dickens: 'A Tale of Two Cities'

Starting off our list is Charles Dickens' classic novel, 'A Tale of Two Cities'. This novel begins with one of the most famous examples of juxtaposition: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." Here, Dickens uses juxtaposition to highlight the chaos and contradictions of the French Revolution.

Harper Lee: 'To Kill a Mockingbird'

Next up is Harper Lee's 'To Kill a Mockingbird'. In this novel, the innocence of the children, Scout and Jem, is juxtaposed with the prejudice and racism of the adult world. This stark contrast allows Lee to emphasize the inherent injustice of racial discrimination.

William Shakespeare: 'Romeo and Juliet'

No discussion of juxtaposition in literature would be complete without mentioning William Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet'. In this play, the passionate love between Romeo and Juliet is juxtaposed with the violent feud between their families. This contrast not only heightens the tragedy of their fate but also underscores the senseless nature of the feud.

George Orwell: '1984'

Lastly, we have George Orwell's dystopian novel '1984'. Orwell juxtaposes the propaganda-filled public life under the totalitarian regime with the protagonist's private life of fear and rebellion. This juxtaposition serves to highlight the oppressive nature of the regime and the individual's struggle for freedom.

These examples demonstrate how authors use juxtaposition to create contrasting images, themes, or characters, adding depth and complexity to their work. As you read, try to identify similar instances of juxtaposition—doing so will enhance your understanding and appreciation of the text.

Juxtaposition Examples in Pop Culture

Literature isn't the only place where you can find rich examples of juxtaposition. Our everyday pop culture is also brimming with it. Let's dive into some of these examples and see how they use this technique to leave a lasting impact.

The Hunger Games: District 12 and The Capitol

First on our list is the movie series 'The Hunger Games'. The stark contrast between the impoverished District 12 and the opulent Capitol is a prime example of juxtaposition. This contrast is used to emphasize the deep socioeconomic inequality within this fictional society.

Breaking Bad: Walter White's Double Life

Another example comes from the hit TV series 'Breaking Bad'. The show meticulously juxtaposes the life of Walter White, a mild-mannered chemistry teacher, and his alter-ego, Heisenberg, a ruthless drug lord. This contrast highlights the dual nature of Walter's character and intensifies the drama.

Disney's Beauty and the Beast: Belle and Gaston

Disney's classic 'Beauty and the Beast' presents an interesting juxtaposition in the form of Belle and Gaston. Belle's love for knowledge and kindness contrasts sharply with Gaston's narcissism and superficiality. This contrast accentuates Belle's good nature and makes Gaston's flaws even more glaring.

The Dark Knight: Batman and The Joker

Lastly, who can forget the epic face-off between Batman and The Joker in 'The Dark Knight'? Their contrasting ideologies and methods are an excellent example of juxtaposition. This contrast not only escalates the conflict but also deepens the exploration of good versus evil.

These pop culture examples show that juxtaposition isn't just a fancy literary technique—it's a powerful tool that artists use to make their work more engaging, thought-provoking, and memorable. So, the next time you watch a movie or series, see if you can spot any examples of juxtaposition.

Uses of Juxtaposition in Writing

Now that we've explored what juxtaposition is and seen some examples, let's go a step further and examine how it's used in writing. So, if you're a writer, get your pen—real or digital—ready to jot down some tips!

Creating Contrast

One of the most common uses of juxtaposition is to create contrast. By placing two very different things side by side, you can emphasize their differences. This creates a clear visual or conceptual image in your reader's mind. Remember District 12 and the Capitol in 'The Hunger Games'? That's your blueprint for creating contrast.

Highlighting Themes

Juxtaposition can also be used to highlight themes in a piece. For instance, if you're writing a story about good versus evil, you could juxtapose a virtuous character against a villainous one—much like Batman and the Joker in 'The Dark Knight'.

Building Suspense

Want to make your readers bite their nails in suspense? Use juxtaposition! By placing a calm, ordinary scene next to an intense, extraordinary one, you can create a sense of impending danger or drama. Think of Walter White's double life in 'Breaking Bad'—his normal life as a teacher is always on the edge of being disrupted by his darker, dangerous side.

Driving the Plot Forward

Juxtaposition can also be a powerful tool for driving your plot forward. Just imagine if Belle from 'Beauty and the Beast' didn't have to deal with Gaston's advances—there’d be much less conflict, and the story wouldn't be as engaging, right?

To sum it up, juxtaposition is a versatile tool that can add depth, contrast, and intrigue to your writing. So, why not try using it in your next piece?

How to Use Juxtaposition Effectively

Now that we've covered the uses of juxtaposition in writing, let's dive into some tips on how to effectively incorporate this literary device into your work. Remember, using juxtaposition well can add layers of meaning to your writing and captivate your readers.

Be Intentional

First and foremost, it's important that you're intentional about the elements you're juxtaposing. Whether it's characters, themes, or scenes, you should have a clear reason for placing them side by side. It shouldn't feel forced or random – think of Harry Potter and Voldemort in 'Harry Potter', their juxtaposition is not accidental, it’s deeply woven into the story.

Emphasize Differences

When using juxtaposition, you want to emphasize the differences between the two elements. The more contrasting they are, the more they stand out. For example, in 'A Tale of Two Cities', Charles Dickens juxtaposes the cities of London and Paris to highlight their stark differences during the French Revolution.

Maintain Balance

While you want to highlight differences, you also need to maintain some balance. If one element overshadows the other too much, the effect of juxtaposition can be lost. It’s like cooking a meal – if you add too much of one ingredient, it can overpower the rest of the flavors.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Like any writing technique, becoming proficient at using juxtaposition takes practice. The more you use it, the more naturally it will come to you. So, keep at it, and don't be afraid to experiment!

In closing, using juxtaposition effectively can truly enhance your writing and engage your readers on a deeper level. But remember, like any tool, it needs to be used with care. So, next time you're drafting a story or writing a piece, why not give juxtaposition a try?

If you enjoyed exploring the concept of juxtaposition in this blog post, you might find Jarrett Lampley's workshop, 'Creative Crossovers: Photography & Graphic Design,' particularly interesting. This workshop delves into the intersection of photography and graphic design, allowing you to further experiment with juxtaposition in your creative projects and expand your artistic horizons.